Think of Mani Ratnam and you think of fine cinema. Almost unanimously, the director will receive praise for his celluloid masterpieces. Unfortunately his latest piece of art has attracted anything but praises. Ratnam’s modern interpretation of one of the most enigmatic and despised villains in India’s mythological history, Raavan, has been panned by the critics and the masses alike.
So, why do I choose to post a review of a movie that has been already deemed as a box-office failure. Simple, because I disagree with the opinions of these “connoisseurs” of fine cinema. Also, as a twitter acquaintance so eloquently put it, because I have fine taste!
Raavan, obviously, is the telling of the Ramayana from a different point of view, that of the antagonist. The movie focusses on the abduction of Ragini (our Sita portrayed by a rather composed Mrs. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) by the “Raavan” of the region, Beera (portrayed by Abhishek Bachchan), an outlaw who seems to be a Robin Hood to some while the Devil to most. Ram is none other than Ragini’s husband Dev Pratap (portrayed by southern star Vikram), a SP who has been in pursuit of the villanous Beera since long.
Beera’s motive behind the abduction is not made clear till much later in the movie, which, in my view, adds to the mystery of the story-telling. As the story unfolds, the underlying plot begins to come into focus. Once the motive behind Beera’s actions was revealed, I found myself rooting for the evil to win this battle for a change.
An aspect of the movie that truly enthralled me was the reversal in the roles of the two primary characters of this modern Ramayana. For those who have seen and read the Ramayana, to them Rama is the personification of absolute and pristine Good, while Ravana is exact opposite.
This interpretation, although a great way to sell morals to young minds, is a rather one-dimensional approach to the two personalities. Ratnam’s interpretation provides a more layered and realistic persona to these two. Dev Pratap’s almost ruthless dedication to apprehend his villain makes him less than noble on multiple occasions. His passion almost borders on villainy. Conversely, Beera’s purpose, his motive to commit these crimes, renders him a hero in the eyes of many.
Sacrifice, forgiveness and selflesness, traits that are associated with heroes are not exhibited by the modern Rama. On the contrary, in this story, Ravana exhibits them and then some!
Visually, the movie is SPECTACULAR. Sivan is truly the master craftsmen as he wields his weapon in the jungles of India. So masterful is his cinematography that the locations themselves become integral characters in the telling of the tale. As an amateur photographer, I found multiple frames simply breathtaking and inspiring. Despite being shot primarily in the wild jungle, there is not one shot that appears mundane or vile.
Rahman has had better soundtracks to his credit, but his compositions for Raavan would certainly rank in his top 10 works of al time. The lyrics to some of the some songs may seem downright absurd, but convey the on-screen emotions beautifully. My personal favorites are the track Beera and Behne De.
In terms of performances, Perhaps Bachchan Jr. did go overboard in certain scenes as he attempted to portray a schizophrenic character with both noble and villainous intentions. But there are certain scenes that simply resonated with his emotion. Aishwarya, to me seemed a tad loud at times (but then I find most women quite loud!), but managed to hold her ground and provided justice to her character. The modern day Rama as portrayed by Southern star Vikram,looking like a walking advertisement for aviator sunglasses, nails his character just right. Coming off as the supposed hero with all the flaws of a mortal being, Vikram did his part in getting the audience to hate him just a tad.
It is sad, that the movie was written off almost instantly and became the target of negative reviews. Perhaps the expectations were raised higher than usual considering the cast and crew. But even with all the hype, the movie does deliver in many departments. Technically the movie is flawless. In my view, Raavan is a movie worth watching, not on the idiot box, but in its full grandeur on the big screen.
So there you have it, my sincere take on Raavan. The movie may not be what most of you expected, but it sure makes for a great cinematic experience. My only regret was not catching this movie earlier and posting a review to counter the over zealous panning by the mass and social media.
Do yourself a favor, go catch this movie before it vanishes from the cinemas. You may just thank me later.